Dreamtime and the Culture of Poverty: Aboriginality and the State in Australia

  • Alexander Rankine Cuthbert University of New South Wales
Keywords: Aboriginality, Poverty, State, Hegemony, Reality, Racism


In the process of establishing its own culture, Australia has necessarily had to reject with some force, the domination of Anglo--Saxon influences. In doing so it has embraced the idea of multiculturalism, a term which is itself replete with problems. The idea assumes equality for all immigrant cultures within a homogenized Australianism which somehow emerges from a blending of difference, a kind of cultural pot-pourri. In so doing an important aspect of history is continually submerged, that all of these people from whatever background are living in a borrowed land. Not only this, but the original owners are the most dispossessed, the poorest and the sickest members of contemporary Australian society. Within a climate of generalized hopelessness, aboriginal people survive in the face of endemic poverty, disease, alcoholism, drug addiction, and within degraded psychological and physical environments. This paper is based upon a case study of Wilcannia, a desert town of eight hundred persons in Western New South Wales. It has been the scene of violent riots, killings and deaths in custody, and is a 'representation’ of an entire social condition. The paper addresses two related questions-to what degree are the circumstances we perceive problems of aboriginality as opposed to poverty? Or stated differently, which answers to the question of the aboriginal condition lie within the realm of culture, and which should be ascribed to the modern state?


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